Kilroy Was Here
September 13, 2004
Give Us A King
Today, in Slate magazine, Steven Waldman writes on the trend of Republicans' rhetoric that George W. Bush was chosen by God to be President.
Yet it's hard to recall another instance of a presidential campaign so confidently promulgating the idea that its candidate had divine endorsement. The potentially dangerous implication is that since God put George W. Bush in the White House, opposing him is opposing Him. A person could get smited for that.
And, even an atheist such as I has chafed under this type of rhetoric. (I mean, we live in a democracy; don't the people choose our President?)
But Waldman brings up an interesting point towards the end of his article:
Of course, it's always possible God did put George W. Bush in the White House. But if He did, it doesn't theologically follow that He wants him to have a second term. Even those who believe that God controls world events usually concede it is hard for humans to divine the intent of the Divine.
After all, in the Bible, God is described as doing things for all sorts of inexplicable reasons—sometimes as a reward to the people, and sometimes as a punishment.
And this reminded me of Chapther 8 out of the book of Samuel. In Samuel, the Israelites, disappointed in the behavior of their judges, ask Samuel for a King.
6 But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said, Give us a king to judge us. And Samuel prayed unto the LORD.
7 And the LORD said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.
8 According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even unto this day, wherewith they have forsaken me, and served other gods, so do they also unto thee.
So, God gets a little pissed off about this King thing, and He tells Samuel to warn them about the type of King they could get. God curses the Israelites by answering their prayers.
Of course, the Israelites don't listen.
11 And he said, This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots.
12 And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots.
13 And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers.
14 And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants.
15 And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants.
16 And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work.
17 He will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants.
18 And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the LORD will not hear you in that day.
19 Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, Nay; but we will have a king over us;
20 That we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles.
21 And Samuel heard all the words of the people, and he rehearsed them in the ears of the LORD.
22 And the LORD said to Samuel, Hearken unto their voice, and make them a king.
When I read this passage, I felt chilled. For, lo, my brothers, doth the tribe of Americans repeat the errors of the Israelites. Forgoing the learnings of their ancestors, they, too, anoint themselves a King.
And, again, the King they choose takes the Sons and Daugthers of America to squander in his chariots and in his battles.
September 08, 2004
What Getting Into Harvard Really Means
Gregg Easterbrook sites Alan Krueger and Stacy Berg Dale study that seems to imply the education at Harvard does not significantly add more value to a person's long term income. Regular readers of this blog (Hi, Alder!) know that I've talked about this particular study several times over the last couple of years. So, you might not be surprised by Easterbrook's article.
Matthew Yglesias offers a tentative defense of Harvard, or at least, Harvard's admission process.
Their research indicates that there may be no good reason to attend Harvard if you can, as will usually be the case, get a more attractive financial aid package from a less selective school or else simply find a lower tuition at a public university. Their research most emphatically does not support the conclusion that whether or not you can get admitted to a highly selective college matters. On the contrary, the research indicates that the methods used by the admissions officers at these schools are rather good at identifying persons who are likely to achieve high incomes later in life.
Ah, yes, but then, what characteristics are the Harvard's of the world actually selecting for? Matthew seems to imply that the admissions process somehow distinguishes merit, or at the very least, talent. But is that actually the case?
Well, if you love Malcolm Gladwell articles as much as I do, you'll have remembered reading The New Boy Network way back in May, 2000.
This article profiles another Harvard graduate in his pursuit of a computer programming job right out of college. (He eventually takes a job with the hot company of the time, Tellme.)
You should really read the article; it's very entertaining. But for those who like their blogging boiled down, here's the important paragraphs:
Recently, a comparable experiment was conducted by Frank Bernieri, a psychologist at the University of Toledo. Bernieri, working with one of his graduate students, Neha Gada-Jain, selected two people to act as interviewers, and trained them for six weeks in the proper procedures and techniques of giving an effective job interview. The two then interviewed ninety-eight volunteers, of various ages and backgrounds. The interviews lasted between fifteen and twenty minutes, and afterward each interviewer filled out a six-page, five-part evaluation of the person he'd just talked to. Originally, the intention of the study was to find out whether applicants who had been coached in certain nonverbal behaviors designed to ingratiate themselves with their interviewers--like mimicking the interviewers' physical gestures or posture--would get better ratings than applicants who behaved normally. As it turns out, they didn't. But then another of Bernieri's students, an undergraduate named Tricia Prickett, decided that she wanted to use the interview videotapes and the evaluations that had been collected to test out the adage that "the handshake is everything."
"She took fifteen seconds of videotape showing the applicant as he or she knocks on the door, comes in, shakes the hand of the interviewer, sits down, and the interviewer welcomes the person," Bernieri explained. Then, like Ambady, Prickett got a series of strangers to rate the applicants based on the handshake clip, using the same criteria that the interviewers had used. Once more, against all expectations, the ratings were very similar to those of the interviewers. "On nine out of the eleven traits the applicants were being judged on, the observers significantly predicted the outcome of the interview," Bernieri says. "The strength of the correlations was extraordinary."
This research takes Ambady's conclusions one step further. In the Toledo experiment, the interviewers were trained in the art of interviewing. They weren't dashing off a teacher evaluation on their way out the door. They were filling out a formal, detailed questionnaire, of the sort designed to give the most thorough and unbiased account of an interview. And still their ratings weren't all that different from those of people off the street who saw just the greeting.
Now, I'm not sure, but doesn't the Harvard Admissions process have an interview?
So, we're forced to ask the question, what is it that the vaunted Harvard admissions process is really measuring? What is the primary characteristic that it's sifting for? Does it truly measure talent or merit or potential?
Or does it only measure the ability to project talent or merit or potential?